Lawmakers urged to expand pension plan for those in dangerous jobs



From left: Local 793 President James Robinson; WFSE/AFSCME Lobbyist Matt Zuvich; Rick Hertzog and Craig Gibelyou, both Local 793.

From left: Local 793 President James Robinson; WFSE/AFSCME Lobbyist Matt Zuvich; Rick Hertzog and Craig Gibelyou, both Local 793.

ederation members on Tuesday (Dec. 16) urged legislators to dust off and embrace a humanitarian pension measure that passed the House earlier this year but not the Senate.

The Select Committee on Pension Policy once again got an ask from a group of Federation mental health members to expand the Public Safety Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) to include more institutions workers in dangerous jobs that provide direct care, custody or safety. That would include workers in state mental health hospitals, residential habilitation centers caring for developmentally disabled citizens and juvenile rehabilitation facilities.

Supporters say expanding PSERS would recognize that state workers doing jobs susceptible to high rates of on-the-job injuries and assaults in state institutions deserve the same earlier retirement consideration as those with limited law enforcement authority who’ve been included since PSERS began in 2006.

For Craig Gibelyou, a licensed practical nurse 4 at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, the proposed expansion is long overdue.

“During the entirety of my employment, we have always known this is an extremely dangerous environment with a high sustained rate of injury,” the Local 793 member said.

“It wears us down and beats us down to the point where we’re no longer able to work.”

He said mental health workers, for instance, face “severe economic hardship” when injuries force them off the job before qualifying for full or earlier retirement.

“We manage mental health patients who are criminals as well,” Gibelyou said.

Federation-backed legislation that would have expanded PSERS to include high-danger institutions job classifications passed the House in March on an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 94-3. But Senate leadership refused to even give the bill (EHB 1923) a committee hearing.

But in the wake of high-visibility assaults that we previously reported on (http://www.wfse.org/safety-at-western-state-hospital-in-the-news-again/), supporters hope any PSERS expansion bill doesn’t stiff-armed again. The 2015 legislative session begins Jan. 12.

Expanding PSERS would “provide relief to an aging workforce” caring for patients and clients who sometimes lash out, Federation Lobbyist Matt Zuvich said.

It would also help the state attract and keep workers in those dangerous jobs.

Under PSERS, members with at least 20 years of service will be eligible for full retirement benefits from age 60, five years earlier than the regular retirement age in Public Employees’ Retirement System Plans 2 and 3. Members of PSERS with 20 years of service may also early retire beginning at age 53 with a 3 percent reduction in benefits per year of early retirement.

ALSO:

• In other pension news, the slim glimmer of hope on the PERS 1 uniform cost-of-living adjustment (UCOLA) court case faded to black Dec. 4 when the Thurston County Superior Court dismissed one procedural issue remanded to it by the state Supreme Court, which ruled against public sector retirees in August.

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